Tag Archives: Darren Tilby

Game Off

True to the Game 2

by Darren Tilby

Full disclosure: I never had the pleasure of seeing the first True to the Game movie, and so my thoughts here are based entirely on Jamal Hill’s sequel True to the Game 2 and what little I managed to garner from it about the first movie.

Picking up a year after the murder of her husband – Quadir – by rival gang leader Jerrell (Andra Fuller), Gena (Erica Peeples) is determined to leave her life in Philly behind her, moving to New York City and reinventing herself as a journalist. But the past has a way of catching up, and soon the drug gangs she thought she had escaped are closing in.

At its heart, this is a story of black lives being torn apart by gang violence, and as such, you might expect it to be a profound or maybe even empowering experience. Regretfully, the only thing remotely profound or empowering here is that not absolutely everyone in the film is an utterly detestable stereotype—although most are.

Much of the film relies on broad stereotypes and genre clichés, as it grinds from one scene to the next, and from one two-dimensional character to another. And there are a lot of characters here, in fact too many. Each with their own branching story going on, many of them not particularly well written, and most with arcs never satisfactorily resolved. While there are many perfectly capable performances, I just can’t accept them as believable people.

Quite apart from that, the pacing is off, the soundtrack feels like an afterthought and the plot is quite dull. It’s not bad, but nor is it exciting; there is nothing here that we haven’t seen before, and seen done better. The camera work, however, is really rather splendid. Framing is solid, and how the camera drifts and floats throughout and from scene to scene is skillfully done and pleasing.

True to the Game 2 didn’t work for me, on any level whatsoever. I disliked many of the characters, I was disinterested in the story, and I was bored by the predictability of its cliché-ridden writing. Fans of the first film (True to the Game), and perhaps fervid fans of the crime genre itself, may get something out of this, or at least more than I did. But suffice to say, I won’t be climbing the walls in anticipation for a sequel.

Ship of Ghouls

Blood Vessel

by Darren Tilby

I was excited to see Blood Vessel for two reasons: firstly, it’s a creature feature, which I love. And secondly, I love the deserted/ghost ship setting. Now I’ll be the first to admit I had high expectations for this film, and perhaps they were too high. Because by the end, I was left feeling a little deflated.

Now I want to be absolutely clear when I say Blood Vessel is NOT a bad film. Not by any stretch of the imagination. My main issue with the film comes from the pacing. We follow a group of seven survivors of a German U-Boat attack. Three Americans: Malone (Robert Taylor), Jackson (Christopher Kirby) and Bigelow (Mark Diaco). Two Brits: Nurse, Jane Prescott (Alyssa Sutherland) and codebreaker, Faraday (John Lloyd Fillingham). Also Australian, Sinclair (Nathan Philips) and Russian, Teplov (Alex Cooke). A diverse selection of allied forces.

We join this mixed bag of characters adrift at sea and with dwindling supplies. On the verge of losing all hope, a Nazi minesweeper hoves into view—a visually stunning sequence. Deciding that capture, or possibly even murder by the Nazi’s is better than starving to death the group clamber aboard. But once aboard, the ship seems deserted. Apart from a mysterious young girl (Ruby Isobel Hall) who – in a sequence mimicking Newt’s discovery in Aliens – is found hiding deep in the ship’s interior.

Blood Vessel gets off to a strong start and wastes no time getting the survivors onto the doomed vessel. Director/co-writer Justin Dix employs visuals here, and in fact, throughout the film, that are incredibly compelling and atmospheric. The eerie red hue of the sky and crashing waves of the ocean as the Nazi ship pierces the seemingly unnatural pelagic fog is quite a sight to behold. The movie’s excellent visual quality is maintained in its production design and particularly with its creature effects. And while the creatures themselves are, without a doubt, grotesque and frightening looking, they are never fully utilised.

Which brings me to the issue of pacing; for me, the film’s biggest problem. Which really is a shame because, actually, it starts off so well. But after a long time of exploring the ship and discovering the desiccated and burnt corpses of the ship’s crew (which is fun), we still haven’t learned anything new. And by the time the creatures are released, the events in the story restrict them doing anything that feels worth our wait.

What this does mean, however, is that we get to spend more time with these characters, which isn’t a terrible thing. The quality of the performances throughout the film’s cast is solid, with Alex Cooke’s Teplov really standing out for me. The problem here is the unoriginality of the characters themselves. None really express as anything other than genre typical stereotypes, which isn’t a massive problem for a film like this; character backstories and development aren’t terribly important. But it would have been nice to have seen something a little different.

All things considered, and in spite of a few issues, Blood Vessel is an entertaining enough horror romp. A well-directed, situational horror film with gorgeous cinematography from Sky Davies and John Sanderson’s superb special effects is what awaits anyone daring enough to hop aboard.

Clown Show

The Opening Act

by Darren Tilby

The world of stand-up comedy is notoriously difficult and unforgiving. It’s a tough business to break in to, with many clubs unwilling to give newcomers more than five minutes of stage time, and even then, usually only after the comedian has made a bit of a name for themselves. And then there is the audience, who can be less than accommodating, to say the least. It’s toward this struggle that Steve Byrne directs a perceptive and knowing gaze.

Will Chu (a fantastic showing from Jimmy O. Yang), a young Asian man from Ohio, dreams of being a stand-up comic but finds himself frustrated by the lack of willingness of most local venues to give him much of a chance. But, spurred on by his girlfriend, Jen (a brilliant and charming, yet criminally underutilized Debby Ryan), he keeps at it. His big break finally comes when a friend and fellow comedian, Quinn (Ken Jeong), sets him up with a weekend-long gig at the famous Improv club in Pennsylvania. It’s a booking that could make or break Will’s career.

There’s rarely a dull moment during the entirety of The Opening Act’s 90-minute runtime, thanks in no small part to an eclectic cast of colorful characters and their various exploits, most of which Will gets, inadvertently, caught up in. It is in the absurdity of these situations that we find much of the film’s humor. It descends into the ridiculous at times, but there’s also an honesty about it that makes it feel feel, perhaps, not so far- fetched after all.

Tonally, however, the film lacks edge. For instance: at one point, we hear that many comics mock their own pain and suffering as a way of coping. This is a commonly held belief, and it’s a weighty subject, one I should like to have explored more, particularly from an insider’s point-of-view. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really happen. This reluctance to delve into the darker, more cynical side of the industry feels like an oversight and results in the film becoming a little shallow.

But there’s no denying that The Opening Act is a lovely film; a feel-good movie that, despite the occasional mention of drugs and scenes of drinking, seems kind of warm and fuzzy inside. It’s a safe and good-natured movie that’s well-presented, well-written, honest and authentic—and I really enjoyed it.


Family Matters


by Darren Tilby

Based on his own Danish-language film Silent Heart, writer Christian Torpe partners with director Roger Michell for the Anglo-American remake, Blackbird. You likely know the story already: an ailing matriarch invites her fractured family around to stay for one last weekend of joy and festivities before she plans to end her life through euthanasia. But, as is so often the case in films like this, everyone’s a long way from even pretending to play happy family.

Susan Sarandon stars as Lily, the head of the family unit. Sam Neill puts in a career-high as Paul, Lily’s husband, who proceeds with a stoic, removed air about his wife’s illness and impending self-death.

Kate Winslet’s Jennifer is the first to arrive, early, along with husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) and son Johnathan (Anson Boon). Straight-laced and proud, Jennifer is the polar opposite of her younger sister, Anna (Mia Wasikowska); a flighty young woman who traipses in late, “looking like shit,” with girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus) in tow.

Completing the family unit is Liz (Lindsay Duncan), Lily’s oldest and dearest friend.

As you can probably tell, the film’s main attraction is its star-studded cast. A sea of riveting performances is what awaits us and Torpe’s well-written, character-establishing (and building) dialogue make these people come alive and feel genuine—even if some of their actions don’t. Indeed, Michell relies heavily on the strength of his actors to deliver the emotional clout the movie promises. There’s no denying the cast is up to the task, although other aspects of the film feeling like an afterthought.

The plot mechanics are hackneyed and unoriginal, while Peter Gregson’s score feels generic and uninspired. Mike Ely’s crystalline visuals, though, are an absolute delight, and effortlessly reflect the beauty and tragedy of both life and death.

It’s unoriginal, and it’s certainly not perfect, but this is a beautiful piece of filmmaking about the celebration of life, love and family, rather than the sadness of death and loss. And it brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion.

Angel of Death


by Darren Tilby

As far as psychological thrillers go, this is a peculiar one. An odd concoction of glaringly obvious plot twists and contrived diegesis; of excellent performances but inconsistent characters; of an implied take on influencer culture leading, bizarrely, into The Manchurian Candidate territory, Diery can be best described as—a bit of a mess.

Marie (Claudia Maree Mailer), a popular Instagram model with over one million followers. She is well on her way to getting her masters degree in comparative religion, leaving an abusive relationship and moving on from childhood trauma that saw her hospitalized. She seems to have a perfect life. As, indeed, everyone keeps telling her. However, Marie is haunted still by the events of her past, and when her cherished diary goes missing and letters, seemingly from an obsessed fan, begin turning up at her apartment, things take an extraordinary and deadly turn.

My chief complaint here is John Buffalo Mailer’s writing: there’s a lot of ideas floating around, too many in fact, and nothing comes of any of them. Is this a cautionary tale about the dangers of sharing our lives on social media? Is it a tension-filled spy thriller? There’s even a suggestion of witchcraft at one point. The answer is that it’s all of those things and none of them. To be honest, I’m not overly convinced filmmaker Jennifer Geifer herself knows.

This feels like a committee has put it together, several different concepts mashed together to form some semblance of a complete narrative. It fails. And it’s a real shame, too. Performances are pretty good across the board, even if the characters are a little generic – with standout displays from Claudia Mailer, Ciaran Byrne and Philip Alexander. But very little here occurs naturally. Almost everything feels manufactured, except, maybe, for the chemistry between the central cast, which is wholly organic.

Diery certainly isn’t without its charms: the characters are likable, the performances are solid, and Julia Swain’s cinematography exudes atmosphere. But it’s let down, badly, by several plot contrivances and its inability to stay on the rails for more than 20 minutes.

And when it ended with an enormous Sleepy Hollow-like exposition dump, I was done.   


Erotic City

Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk

by Darren Tilby

Walerian Borowczyk – a writer/director of unparalleled sensuality, unequalled in the 1970s for his work on sexual freedom, but later labelled an erotic filmmaker, had a short but undeniably impactful career. By interviewing long-time collaborators, peers and fans of his work, Kuba Mikurda offers rare insight into Borowczyk’s art, which poses questions on society’s relationship with love and hate and the boundaries of artistic freedom, in a celebration of Borowczyk’s enigmatic and often controversial career.

Unlike Borowczyk himself, Love Express follows a fairly conventional (documentary-film) formula: it’s constructed from archival footage of Borowczyk at work and in interview, as well as contemporary interviews from those who knew him or his work. It’s a safe choice, one that works well, but still, I feel more could have been done here to differentiate it a little.

Long-time collaborator Noël Véry – who acted as a camera operator in many of Borowczyk’s films and was one of the people closest to him – leads and stays with us throughout the movie, which, at only 70-minutes in length, flows nicely and never outstayed its welcome.

From Borowczyk’s time as an animator (an identity which he never truly shed) manipulating and fetishizing objects, to live-action director (now manipulating and fetishizing his actors as he once did his animations), to his unfortunate and eventual pigeonholing as a pornographer, Mikurda takes us through it all.

Throughout the film’s five chapters (each detailing particularly important years and movies) we hear from an eclectic mix of people, all with varying interests in Borowczyk’s work: Terry Gilliam, Bertrand Bonello, Neil Jordan, Andrzej Wajda and Patrice Leconte to name but a few.

The interviews themselves are incredibly well-conducted—informative, absorbing, well-shot and with excellent sound quality. Small, almost playful, visual flourishes serve to illustrate the voiced opinion, in addition to keeping the viewer entertained.

More importantly, the film’s entirely successful in bringing to light the unique and often misunderstood talent of one of cinema’s most infamous and enigmatic filmmakers. I knew very little about Borowczyk or his process going into this movie, having seen only a couple of his films. I left feeling enlightened and determined—determined to find his older works.

And in the end, isn’t that the point?