Monday, 16 December 2013
Saturday, 4 May 2013
Duration: 130 mins
So 'phase two' begins of Marvel's global domination in the superhero market after their monstrously successful The Avengers that scooped a whopping $1.5bn at the box office. Robert Downy Jr. picks up where that left off as he tries to shake off the dire attempt of Iron Man 2, with the aptly titled Iron Man Three.
Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black gets the gig of director and is able to integrate the classic 'buddy movie' elements here; a motion he practically invented by the way. The clarity of having someone with a nous for directing and writing pays dividends because without a shadow of a doubt, Iron Man Three is the best of the trilogy, and possibly the strongest Marvel film to grace the big screen to date.
Downey Jr. does a fine job of carrying the character of Tony Stark and indeed the entire film. He's got charisma by the bucket load and uses this as its main selling point, not to mention the script is tailored for some terrific back-and-forth exchanges between himself and various characters: notably a young boy named Harley he befriends along the way.
Action sequences are aplenty and incorporate CGI to a heavy degree, yet is an essential servant to the epic scale of some of the scenes: exploding buildings; cliff-side disasters and suburban street carnage wouldn't look half as impressive without the effects that feel appropriately suited to the Marvel world. Each one is impressive, don't get me wrong, but there's also a sense that each is merely trying to outdo the former, which ends up feeling like it becomes a show-off contest competing against itself as the even bigger climax gets underway.
As with all Marvel ventures, there's a helping of cheese and daft frivolity, yet to a much lesser extent than its 'phase one' siblings. Furthermore, when a film such as this attempts to go all The Dark Knight in terms of tone and subtext, the sillier, clunkier moments inevitably end up sticking out like a sore thumb. For the majority of its duration the balance between serious, flawed superhero and witty, comic relief is maintained well: it moves along at a good pace and offers amusing, entertaining as well as a few 'wow' moments to bolster the overall spectacle of the piece.
Supporting roles for Gwyneth Paltrow, Rebecca Hall and Don Cheadle are fine, if unspectacular. Paltrow gets her teeth into her meatiest part yet as the romantically-linked sophisto Pepper Potts, but is completely overshadowed by the efforts of Sir Ben Kingsley as uber intimidating terrorist, The Mandarin. Guy Pearce also gets a substantial role as Aldrich Killian and there's the like-clockwork cameo from Stan Lee; such appearances never fail to amuse/impress me in equal measure.
Tipping the two-hour mark is enough time to squeeze in the story Black wishes to tell. For the most part it's an enjoyable and thrilling ride about a billionaire playboy-cum-exposed superhero with anxiety issues. Ultimately, however, it's still as throwaway as the other films in the series, but does possess a little more substance and, dare I say it, depth for what is easily the most interesting and watchable character from The Avengers universe.
Sunday, 21 April 2013
Duration: 126 mins
Duration: 126 mins
As per Robot & Frank, Oblivion has graced us early in a year that's packed to the rafters with films of the sci-fi variety. It’s without doubt a very hit-and-miss genre, as concepts, stories and visuals tend to borrow from its peers, the notion of originality within its boundaries becomes something of a rarity.
It’s also important to note that the script is based on Joseph Kosinski's unpublished graphic novel from 2005. (He also produces, directs and writes the film.) It's only now that the movie has come to fruition, which is perhaps to its detriment because to the trained eye appears to simply pinch chunks from existing movies (both modern and classic). However, this merging of ideas does form a perfectly acceptable, coherent adventure, but is also one that lacks any genuine identity of its own.
Yet to an extent I’d disagree with my own prognosis. I shan't reel off the numerous (and alleged) film influences, but upon a viewing some are fairly obvious. However, what is worth noting is the ones that're deemed similar were conceived after this, so use that information as you will. What Oblivion does do effectively is to create a suspenseful and intriguing post-apocalyptic world that not only looks gorgeous, but feels epically desolate, too. Conceptually, some vehicle and architectural designs are stunning: often rendered beautifully, yet have a ‘been there, done that’ aesthetic stamped over them. Tom Cruise’s Jack is, at times, reminiscent of his War of the Worlds character and indeed a hybrid of several of his past personas. Or maybe he’s just being Tom Cruise – either way it works, albeit with a helping of cheesy Americanisation at times.
What works are the intricacies and development of the plot. Many will criticise its unoriginality, yet it bears a couple of twists that’ll have you questioning (in a good way) the entire premise of the film's futuristic ethos. It’s in this respect that Oblivion thrives and invites the audience to decipher the real truths behind its plot as we experience these brand new moments firsthand along with Jack.
At times it lacks an intelligible depth and finesse in some of its action sequences, but never fails to convince in spectacle and execution. A great turn from Andrea Riseborough as Victoria – Jack’s partner in every sense, as the pair as stationed on a barely inhabitable Earth in order to protect and maintain its restoration after a victorious but devastating alien invasion – warrants mention as well. Olga Kurylenko and Morgan Freeman have smaller, yet significant roles, but it’s Cruise’s protagonist that (naturally) takes centre stage, and his presence is undeniable.
Oblivion’s climax feels like a non-event. It underwhelms in comparison to the impending reveals and momentum its writers build up. However, the journey up to this point is a thoroughly gripping and intense one that should please fans of the genre and fans of the Cruise, too.
Friday, 29 March 2013
Duration: 101 mins
Having turned down the chance of a Knighthood, Danny Boyle maintains his status as the quintessential people's filmmaker. As humble as the man is, there's no denying his features possess a brutal rawness that by and large translates well and whilst his recent feature, Slumdog Millionaire, nabbed an incredible 8 Oscars in 2008, the bar it seems is ever rising.
Trance opens with a slick, concise monologue from James McAvoy's Simon that instantly draws you into his world. It's arguably as well conceived as the opening to 1996 smash Trainspotting, as we're hurriedly thrown into the life of an art auctioneer who, for reasons unknown, double crosses local thief, Franck (the wonderful Vincent Cassel), after agreeing to stage a £25m art heist. During the fray, Simon's hit over the head which renders parts of his memory useless -- specifically the part that knows the location of the hidden painting, and thus the story begins.
Aside from plot intricacies and skillfulness in direction, the acting is the driving force here; Rosario Dawson, assuming the role of hypnotherapist Elizabeth, is perhaps the most impressive on display. With a central female role that plays both Simon and Franck off against one other with her effortless and manipulative sexuality, a web of intrigue, twists and turns present themselves at regular intervals as the story delves further into a dark underbelly of morality and subconsciousness.
The majority of the story is monumentally gripping and intense as the narrative gradually becomes unhinged and threatens to derail. It's complemented, as always, by a majestic soundtrack that's both eclectic and appropriately surreal, which adds to the ferociousness of how the narrative spirals. Such is the intended nature of the seedy depths Boyle explores, and as boundaries of reality and imagination merge for Simon, the ambiguous disposition of what is actually taking place becomes lost.
The ride is a glorious and invigorating one that challenges audiences to decipher what's happening with minimal, subtle hints along the way. Its intelligible, non-spoon fed nature is somewhat undone when, during one dialogue-heavy scene, the haziness of events are explained. It is this latter moment where some confusion is finally alleviated, yet we're still none the wiser when attempting to identify the separation of reality from fantasy. This is perhaps both to the beauty and detriment of Trance's conclusion. It's at this point that the script becomes rather convoluted and teeters on losing focus altogether, but doesn't hinder the quality of what's preceded it.
Skittish and exhilarating, Danny Boyle has created a solid British thriller that excels with moments of excellently crafted double bluffs and deception, but will ultimately leave your brain scrambled as you question everything and trust absolutely no one.
Skittish and exhilarating, Danny Boyle has created a solid British thriller that excels with moments of excellently crafted double bluffs and deception, but will ultimately leave your brain scrambled as you question everything and trust absolutely no one.
Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Duration: 99 mins
Stoker opens with the film’s ending: an oddly juxtaposed shot of Mia Wasikowska’s India strutting across a highway in a pair of heels and into an overgrown layby. We’re not sure what’s going on, but are fed subliminally as director Chan-wook Park intends for us to savour and recall this information and contextualise later on. And that is what audiences are presented with in what is his debut English language film after a string of acclaimed Korean works that include Old Boy and Thirst.
Subtextually, Stoker teases and tantalises with its vampiric parallels that include a murderous blood lust, sexual awakening, generational grooming and incestual behaviour -- the latter being a recurring theme through Park’s filmography, as it is transferred into this seemingly timeless drama with acute detail and to deft effect.
What’s most striking is the visceral direction; structurally, it focuses on a slow-burning story with its off-centre framing and tranquil performances that give the film an overall eerie and unsettling quality. This unease is accentuated by the sublime use of heightened sound that really awakens the aural senses with the crisp dripping of water, for example, that Park uses to overt effect.
Instead of a somewhat forced, clunky transition from ultra violent, extreme Korean cinema into the Hollywood mainstream, a huge degree of integrity and, to an extent, auteurism remains. Park maintains an independent stance in his filmmaking that distances itself from the Hollywood system, yet at the same time includes known names like Matthew Goode, Mia Wasikowska and, more famously, Nicole Kidman. All three assume subtle, yet captivating roles, as each carefully orchestrated character slots perfectly into this seemingly unspecified setting that could be anywhere from the 1920s to modern day Americana. At one point though, it does define the exact time through a forthcoming exchange between India (Wasikowska) and Charlie (Goode), but manages to feel so effortlessly unspecific by its nature.
The premise is a creepy enough concept on its own: with the death of her father, India’s repressed, virginal self begins to evolve as her Uncle Charlie appears out the blue to console her and mother Evelyn (Kidman). She represents a sexually repressed, lonely single parent longing for a man’s touch and general companionship. Rather than develop as a narrative powerhouse, the film carefully treads a path of character study and suggestiveness as a result of their actions and choices. In fact, the focal point is on India’s sexual awakening, as Uncle Charlie begins a sensual and seductive objective to unlock her deepest, darkest desires, or indeed exploit Evelyn’s vulnerability as an unloved human merely existing. And it’s these fascinating traits and ambivalency that form the most frictional of threesomes as far as its central protagonists go.
Not a lot goes on plot-wise in Stoker, but what’s significant is the rich subtext and reading between the lines of the beautiful composition, minimalist performances and subtlety of dialogue. It’s unfortunate that this particular approach to storytelling and its hidden depths might turn some viewers off, but this slice of American Gothic disguised as a period piece is not only haunting and engrossing, but wonderfully conceived, too. Start as you mean to go on, Mr. Park.
Monday, 25 February 2013
Duration: 100 mins
Modern horror is living in the shadows (no pun intended) of its predecessors. At the same time the excellent Carrie is released on Blu-ray, we've got samey, generic and hugely uninventive movies of the genre being churned out faster than you can ask someone what their favourite scary movie is (Scream reference intended).
Jessica Chastain, for all her worth, is miscast as a thirtysomething punk guitarist, which has its appeal at first, but soon becomes clear it isn't the role for her (a quirky 'leave a message at the beep, fuck off' voicemail doesn't quite sit right), but as with the logic and tone of the film, quickly alters to become a jumper-wearing mother figure and covers up the (fake) tattoos she sports.
Mama, in fact, refers not to the role that Annabel (Chastain) fulfils after her other half, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), is granted custody of his nieces after a 5-year abandonment in the wilderness, but to a strange entity that supposedly looked after them during this time.
The premise decides to venture down the supernatural fantasy path, rather than remain grounded as so many of the more effective horrors tend to. Even though titles such as The Blair Witch Project indulge in a fictional evil, the story itself feels hugely believable, which is a rare thing nowadays.
Mama is no exception to the somewhat lazy standard of today; we're presented with a predictable set up and can quite easily foresee how it will end. The premise is initially rather intriguing, but doesn't convincingly play out how one hopes it should. For two girls to be scavenging like animals for most of their lives, they (well, the eldest in particular) adapts to normality unbelievably quick.
The progression of the story doesn't go anywhere fast. Instead, it sort of lingers around the girls and their rehabilitation into civility, and tries to focus on the torment and strain Annabel is under. It doesn't manage to convey this so well, even though there are some nice bonding moments between her and the girls, as well as a couple of tense, semi-scary moments to twitch over.
What lets the film down is the overuse of CGI and the ghostly nasty itself. Good horror films succeed with but a few key factors: subtlety and a less is more ethos. Here we are offered little of the first and absolutely none of the latter. The amount of screentime Mama is given really quashes the fear of the unknown. Seeing a computer generated character that develops into her own persona doesn't work in the realms of this type of film. We need mystery, need a lack of clarity and a certain call for underexposure, but are offered none.
It concludes just as you figure it will. It's too formulaic and cleanly structured, even though its middle is stodgy. As a film intended to scare, the CGI extinguishes a lot of the terror; instead conforming more to a horror devised to enjoyably pass the time with a group of friends, rather than one to have sleepless nights over.
Sunday, 24 February 2013
Duration: 97 mins
After the woefully daft and utterly frivolous attempts of Live Free or Die Hard (that's Die Hard 4.0 to you and I), director John Moore explicitly promises something of quality. Something to reinvigorate the franchise, with a no-nonsense approach. He wholeheartedly lied.
|A Good Day to Sell Out: Bruce smiles all the way to the bank.|
Whether it's Bruce Willis and his enormous star power -- some have suggested he had final say and a level of control over proceedings -- that hampers this fifth instalment, or simply a lack of basic ability from Moore and indeed his scriptwriter Skip Woods (writer of The A-Team and Hitman no less) is anyone's guess. What isn't left to speculation is that A Good Day to Die Hard is a film with absolutely no dignity, finesse or redeeming features. It's got about as much class as a clown reeling off Jimmy Savile jokes in a children's ward.
Willis looks drained and fed up, with a hint that he was likely paid up front and subsequently gave up caring once the cheque had cleared. The plot is paper thin and, for the most part, non-existent. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say it revolves around John McClane who, whilst on holiday, gets into trouble as naughty men try to shoot him as they dabble in illegal activity.
Acting and its dialogue is (consistently, might I add) atrocious. Jai Courtney probably hoped such a film would be an effective vehicle for his movie career, and to be fair it does display his skills as a young, muscular, action-y sort of type, but that's where any glimmer of hope ends unfortunately.
The duration feels like a torturous slog; Courtney and Wills simply exchange unfunny one liners, weird facial expressions, as well as pointless, overblown scenes of truly appalling dialogue. And all this interspersed with them running about like an indestructible father-son combo, whilst avoiding wave after wave of nasty men trying to shoot at them.
|Does anyone actually care?: Apathy seems to be the order of the day.|
The original character of John McClane is all but gone. Now we see not a regular have-a-go hero as per the classic of 1988, but an invincible super-soldier of a man; something more akin to a Terminator or Universal Soldier lead, which is preposterous. The 12a certificate doesn't do it any favours either, stripping the character of any adult depth and is proof that the production team behind it (who actually edited the film down themselves to access a wider audience) have completely sold their souls.
Never has a 97-minute feature felt so unbearably tedious, and makes Taken 2 look like a work of genuine quality. Even the action sequences are executed horrendously, with a dreadfully skittish approach to directing and editing that'll leave you clambering for the exits.
Saturday, 9 February 2013
Duration: 157 mins
Sometimes controversy whirls around a film either working to its advantage or detriment. Admittedly anything that generates such attention is largely media hyperbole, and Kathryn Bigelow's latest is perhaps the perfect example of this.
Zero Dark Thirty -- a film that documents the CIA's battle to hunt down and kill bin Laden -- is a controversial subject matter in itself, but the alleged advocacy of torture seems to be its main talking point. Firstly, the torture scenes aren't especially indulgent, nor does it glorify the process of terrorist interrogation. Secondly, it's not even like the film uses torture for the basis of the narrative, in fact, it features very little in the almost three hour running time. And thirdly, rather than scrutinising this, at times graphic, minute plot element, it's important not to brush the rest of the film aside, because Zero Dark Thirty is a superbly directed, paced and structured thriller.
Understandably Oscar buzz surrounds this, with high profile nominations for Best Picture, Actress and Original Screenplay, yet surprisingly an omission for its directing. Despite the lengthy run time, the pacing and overall balance of action, dialogue and plot are structured fluidly, resulting in a non-stifled flow of true life events translated very effectively onto the big screen. In fact, the story is so well constructed that it could pass as fiction with the narrative progression and gripping tension it builds during set pieces.
What's refreshing is the complete lack of an 'America, fuck yeah!' attitude, even during the moments one might expect (specifically in the enthralling climax), as the story concentrates on its ultimate goal: kill bin Laden. However, patriotism is still visible on the surface of the actions, but the extent and fundamentality of it -- find the bad guys so we can kill them all -- is well disguised in an intelligently written screenplay.
Jessica Chastain is on top form as the overworked, undersexed CIA operative Maya, as her obsession to locate bin Laden defines her characteristics both positively through her determination and perseverance, and negatively via the encumbering nature her obsession has on her health and psychological state. Her role is certainly worthy of an Oscar nod, and may very well emerge the victor come February the 24th.
Another point previously touched upon is Bigelow's spot on direction, further adding to the bafflement of an Oscar snub. She conveys the enormity of the story effectively, treating her audience with the intelligence they deserve and refuses to spoon feed every piece of information to them. Instead, we are encouraged to fill in gaps and piece together details as Maya accumulates them, whilst still offering a concise and accessible story to follow.
From the very beginning Zero Dark Thirty engages in the form of non-fictional drama, builds tension gradually, and strides towards a finale that can only be described as majestic and is comparable to any work of fiction available today. The tension arguably supersedes the hugely praised Argo, and maintains that knife-edged intensity for much longer periods, too.
Sunday, 3 February 2013
Duration: 107 mins
For anyone who's read his recent autobiography entitled Total Recall, you'll notice instead of highlighting aspects of adultery or failure, the insightful musings inform readers what a shrewd and intelligent business man Arnold Schwarzenegger was and still is today.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was the big man's last starring role almost a decade ago, and, on the face of it, Jee-woon Kim's whimsy modern western is in many ways the perfect vehicle for the former Governor's resurgence.
The Last Stand is a blend of gratuitous violence reminiscent of the 80s and 90s action hero Arnie once was, but also -- subversively or not -- expresses a topical approach to gun control that won't sit comfortably with everyone. For fans, this is a welcomed return for Schwarzenegger because it offers up everything synonymous with the Austrian: one liners, brute force, physical presence, violence, guns, a no frills plot; clear cut heroes and villains; and general badassery. And in this respect, The Last Stand works well; Arnie plays the Sheriff of an Americana town, as he aims to take down the hilariously accented, brilliantly generic villain, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), whose escape route to the boarder runs through Sheriff Ray Owens' (Schwarzenegger) stomping ground.
There's a lot of awkwardly delivered, cheesy dialogue, but within the context of the film and considering its star, it's completely aware if its traits, thus justifies its construction. The cleverness here is that The Last Stand is packaged to accommodate Arnold who, let's face it, will never compete for a role against Daniel Day-Lewis, but can offer a nostalgic, muscle-bound presence much like Stallone and Willis do, and this is exactly the right comeback role for him, especially for an actor in his mid 60s.
The joy of this is its simplicity. Its old school formula, frivolous nature and resistance from veering into Die Hard 4.0 territory prevents this actioner from encumbering itself in total ridicule, proving an effective platform for Schwarzenegger's big screen return -- a sensible choice considering his acting ability (or lack of). By no means deep or particularly memorable, it is, however, an entertaining, carefree romp at the cinema.
Sunday, 13 January 2013
Duration: 113 mins
The aftermath of mass media panic halted Ruben Fleischer's third feature from a September 2012 release, after succumbing to moral obligation to remove a cinema shooting, and reschedule for an early 2013 one. In truth, the omission of this infamous scene isn't missed or seemingly required in the context of the film in its newer cut, but all this would be more significant if the film in question was actually worth the wait.
The American director's previous film, 30 Minutes or Less, is nothing to write home about, instead relying on his debut, Zombieland, in which to showcase his talents. Attaining a solid cast including Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin, as well as the framework from the existing Paul Lieberman novel, are solid foundations, but instead of creating something to rival the likes of L.A. Confidential, it ends up falling short of the decidedly average Mulholland Falls.
With little positives to speak of other than a mild sense of entertainment value in a handful of moments, they're largely nullified by the noticeable errors of its ways. Its biggest detriment is credibility, and the 1949 world Gangster Squad bases itself in looks anything but. Whereas L.A. Confidential oozed an authentic 50s crime noir aesthetic, this couldn't be more contrasting; saturated colours; clean, neatly costumed characters; a cliché-riddled script; and painfully staged settings are more akin to Bugsy Malone as opposed to anything intended to be taken seriously.
This comparison to a preteen crime flick is accentuated by its performances, too. Whether it be Sean Penn's ham-fisted depiction of tyrant Mickey Cohen or Ryan Gosling's Truman Capote impersonation, the entire ensemble appear to have been reading different scripts because there's a complete lack of understanding and enthusiasm across the board, especially from squad leader Brolin. Importantly, the requirement of chemistry -- specifically during the romance subplot concerning Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone -- is essential, but proves non-existent. Any hint of eroticism or sexual tension is swiftly extinguished, much like the validity of the film itself.
Rather than explore interesting or complex sub plotting, Gangster Squad is the naive, overzealous and all too often embarrassing younger sibling to The Untouchables; one tries not to compare the two, but is forced by mere association. Not once does it threaten with intelligence or offer thought provoking insight, instead opting for tepid entertainment (and by that, this simply involves copious amounts of gun fire and loud noises). It's pretty one-dimensional in terms of telling a bare bones story pursuing Cohen, and at least, in this respect, it sticks to a leveled playing field of providing action sequences and entertainment in a most basic form. However, this simply won't be enough for anyone who wishes to enter with their brain engaged: there isn't anything resembling sophistication other than a group of rogue officers spraying as many bullets as possible at any given target.
Gangster Squad fails to meet even a satisfying degree of fulfilment; it's devoid of depth with its no-frills plot, favouring clumsy recreation rather than the effective crafting of an authentic period movie. The acting, again, bases its mannerisms, dialogue and delivery on mid-20th Century movie stereotypes, which feels clunky and wholly unflattering for those involved.
Saturday, 12 January 2013
Duration: 114 mins
Regardless of the praise or controversy surrounding the latest real-life tragedy depicted on the big screen, The Impossible is undoubtedly token Oscar fodder, but less crass in comparison to last year's inclusion of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, that's for sure.
Even though Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona bases the true story on the account of a Spanish family, it is adapted for English-speaking audiences with the recognisible faces of Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. What's clear is the hugely contrived setup for the impending tsunami disaster that struck on Boxing Day 2004, and even though it is a necessity to construct an idyllic family holiday before the inevitable horror, it does so in heavy-handed fashion. Whist some have focused critically on the Anglicisation, it shouldn't have dominant relevance when exploring the issues and context of these characters presented within this particular story.
Obligatory exposition out the way, the initial impact of the tsunami is nothing other than devastating. It is scenes such as these that are tackled in a way that balances the sheer horror and deft poignancy to commendable effect. The CGI feels large-scale enough for impact, yet subtle enough for believability, which is one of the film's strongest claims.
However, aside from the emotion generated and horror visualised, particular plot points (in the latter scenes especially) feel terribly staged for an audience pay off. Coincidence dominates the conclusion offering an outcome of hope and resolve rather than a more realistic acceptance and inevitability of reality in the wake of such a catastrophe. It's obviously to be expected for a) a Hollywood disaster movie, and b) as something that strives to appeal to the Academy.
Performances peak with Watts, who demands more screen time than her male counterpart and perhaps warrants her Oscar nod. McGregor, however -- aside from one particularly devastating scene -- offers a consistent if not outstanding turn. The couple's children, specifically Lucas (Tom Holland), perform well considering a lack of experience. Unfortunately, it is the inconsequential characters that make up the swampy mainland that deliver wooden, awkward lines of dialogue that threatens to remove audiences from the very real, engrossing dangers of the environment they've invested in.
The Impossible possesses a clear intention to appeal to human nature, relying on a handful of tremendously poignant moments to affect, overwhelm and completely engage its audience. However, in a film that, for one reason or another, decides to alter factual certainties for entertainment, audiences will still willingly succumb to the emotional blackmail on offer in the form of this effective but contrived melodrama.