Murder Party (2007) – Movie Review by Max Coulson

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10/10

Jeremy Saulnier may wind up being one of my favourite directors.  I’ve now seen all three of his movies, and all three have gotten top marks from me.

There are definite similarities across all his films, but this first effort is notably more…  well, more fucking hilarious.  This is an amazing black comedy/horror film that was tense when it needed to be, hit every mark comedically, and was sufficiently brutal in the gore department.

The film follows a traffic warden named Chris (played by Chris Sharp) happens upon an invite to the titular ‘murder party.’  Assuming this to be a halloween party, he hastily assembles suit of armour from a cardboard box and some duct tape, cooks up some pumpkin loaf, and heads along to the party.

The party, of course, turns out to be considerably more fucked up than Chris expected.  In fact, rather than a party, it is a group of aspiring artists in a warehouse, planning to murder him in order to impress this guy named Alexander – who is promising a large grant to the best artist in the group.

Through all of this, Chris must take advantage of the constant in-fighting and drug-induced insanity, in order to get away.

In some ways, this plot feels somewhat familiar – but as with Saulnier’s two later films, this movie completely flies in the face of genre expectation.

Many filmmakers would’ve chosen to give Chris a knack for strategy, fighting, or just have him be level-headed enough to get his shit together and make a plan but that just isn’t the case, here.  Chris is fairly hapless and, while he does make the occasional smart decision, most of the time a situation tilts in his favour, it tends to be more the result of either dumb luck, or the stupidity of one or more of his captors.

That’s the other great thing, here – the villains don’t have much of a plan, either.  Hell, they seem fairly surprised that anyone even showed up to the murder party at all.  They’re all self-obsessed, not all that smart, and more than somewhat inebriated.

If this movie proves anything, it’s that a film can be mostly dumb fun, without having to be totally predictable.

I…  I fucking loved this movie.

Watch it.  It’s good.

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Foxy Brown (1974) – Movie Review by Max Coulson

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8/10

Why is this the most well known Jack Hill/Pam Grier movie?  Is it because of its name being a clear influence on Tarantino’s Jackie Brown?  Is it because of the admittedly brilliant opening credit sequence?

Look, this isn’t a bad movie by any stretch – but compared to Hill’s previous three blaxploitation movies (ESPECIALLY Coffy!) it was really a bit lackluster.

The things that are good about all of Hill’s blaxploitation films are still good here – great music, Sid Hague, a more intelligent social commentary hidden within the subtext that a movie like this really needed, fun action set-pieces (even if the fight choreography in these movies has always been weak) and, of course, Pam fucking Grier.

Pam Grier’s characters, particularly Foxy Brown and Coffy are really perfect examples of how to hit that balance of smart, sexy and badass, without causing audience members to roll their eyes in disbelief every few seconds.

For a start, she isn’t some martial arts expert for no reason, she doesn’t have abnormal strength for a woman of her build, and she is hardly unbreakable.  Generally speaking, when a couple of guys attack her, she will struggle or outright lose – but she ends up ultimately winning because she’s smart and level headed.

She uses her sexuality to get what she wants but, even in those moments, she never attempts to appear air-headed.  She knows that the people she’s dealing with aren’t the sort of person to go easy on a ditsy character.  Her approach is, “I’m sexy, and you can make money from that – but it’ll be on my terms.”

The times where she does come across as an airhead is when attempting to trick people who are obviously far stupider than the gang leaders she’s out to get.

Her lack of brute strength or fighting prowess is actually something that brings not only realism, but a sense of excitement to these movies – because she has to think her way out of a problem, rather than just fight her way out.

All these elements are present in this movie, as with previous efforts.  However, this movie’s biggest drawback is that it’s…  kinda fucking boring.

Coffy got going straight away – to the point that she’s already on her revenge mission by the time the movie starts.  This film takes more time setting it up, which would be fine, but it doesn’t really offer the audience anything to make that setup interesting.  The opening action sequence with the car is embarrassingly bad, and its awkward attempts at humour really fall flat.  Foxy’s brother is such a pointless addition to the film that really adds nothing of merit, and the villains are just kinda stock villains.  They do nothing to really make you hate them, save for the two rapist drug dealers at the ranch – but having characters rape someone is a pretty lazy way of making the audience hate them, because it’s just too easy.

Some of the set-pieces are really fun, especially the escape scene in the ranch, and the piece near the end.  However, the barroom brawl (as much as I have to give the movie credit for being the only film I can think of that has a bar fight in a lesbian only bar) was really tacked on and could’ve been cut from the movie with little effect on anything.  This wouldn’t bother me if this was a Jim Kelly film, but as I mentioned before – the fight choreography in these films is pretty bad.

This film is so similar to Coffy in so many ways, so it’s hard not to draw comparisons and, really, that’s this film’s biggest problem: it’s never going to be as good as Coffy.

As good as this film is (and it really is), and despite my 8 out of 10 rating, I don’t really know how strongly I can recommend this film – when I could just recommend watching Coffy.

So watch Coffy.  That’s a 10/10 for me.  Then, if you get curious, check this one out.  It’s not as good, but you’ll still have fun with it.

High-Rise (2015) – Movie Review by Max Coulson

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7.5/10

I can’t pretend I’m not a little disappointed.  After seeing such great work from Ben Wheatley in Sightseers, A Field In England, and Kill List – I was really expecting to come away from High-Rise, totally blown away.  Sadly, I was not.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a good movie, and some of the elements at play were nothing short of brilliant.  But, taking the movie as a whole, it falls slightly flat.

The film mostly follows Doctor Laing, played by Tom Hiddleston, as he attempts to live a relatively quiet life in the titular high-rise.

The tower block the film takes its name from is basically literal representation of feudalist/classist society – with the wealthiest living at the top, having a seemingly non-stop stream of cocktail parties, and the poor families at the bottom, constantly hoping to get a home in a higher floor.

As time goes on, the building begins to suffer from power failure, and tensions between the social classes begins to grow and grow – before eventually culminating in total chaos.

My main issue with the film is in its pacing.  The aforementioned collapse of society all takes place within a short montage, with not all that much build-up.  The argument could be made that the abrupt nature of the descent into madness could be representative of how civilised society can fall apart so fast that we can hardly figure out how we let it happen.  But it feels more like the film was just trimmed for time.

Hopefully, there’ll be an extended director’s cut at some point, because the hyperactive pace of the movie really lessens its impact, for me.

When the film slows down a little, it manages to build some serious tension.  There was one scene of people dancing and partying, intercut with shots of the ceiling beneath them cracking and starting to buckle under their weight as a child plays in the room, and it really filled me with dread.

The performances were all very strong, most notably Luke Evans as the utterly sociopathic documentary filmmaker, Richard Wilder.  His wife, Helen, played by Elisabeth Moss, was also brilliant as a downtrodden woman who simply wanted the best for her family.

The production design was another big point in the film’s favour.  The design of the tower blocks, themselves, was perfect.  The way they loom over the otherwise desolate landscape really gave them an imposing character of their own.  The interior shots are claustrophobic and unfriendly, regardless of their level of luxury.

The soundtrack ranged from brilliant to slightly sub-par, but fortunately was more of the former than the latter.

Wheatley’s trademark dark sense of humour was very much present in this film, which it really needed, given the subject matter (not that I’d really describe any of the humour as levity – if anything, it makes it feel more twisted).

Great cast, great production design, some cool cinematography…  it’s just that pacing.  C’mon, director’s cut!  Make it happen!

Still worth seeing, though.