Monday, 30 April 2018

Article: Some thoughts on Infinity War

Note: While I have taken an effort to try and not and spoil the film, this piece will mention other fragments of the Marvel Universe which may affect your thoughts on Infinity War.

The Avengers: Infinity War has been a project which has been ten years in the making. It looks set to become one of the most financially successful features of its era, and it’s vindication for marvel studios who, prior to their release of 2008’s Ironman, were staring bankruptcy in the face. In watching the film, it has highlighted itself to be the best of what it is, a mega-franchise, a spectacle-laden, big-budget episode. A cinematic universe.

In the past few months, friends have objectified to my views that these films (nay all films) should ever be critiqued. They should be only viewed with the aims of “entertainment” only. As if we are all entertained by the same thing. Social Media, fan tribalism, and brand loyalty have also helped contribute to a nasty form siege mentality. Not only you should only look at these cultural texts as trivial distractions, you must pick a side and deal. All these films should be looked at like candy floss and we should be happy that we’re being delivered with all sugar we crave. I do like to indulge in sugar, but I’m also highly aware of my root canals.

Infinity Wars is a grand, all singing, all dancing affair. Something that in all honesty should be seen to be believed. A film looking to encompass pieces of 18 other films and finally drive them towards an end game. It is a fascinating and frustrating endeavour. It is a film full of eye-boggling spectacle, enjoyable laughs, and stunning imagery. But it is also a film that not only requires you to watch 30+ of other films for a viewer to truly understand it’s sense of gravitas, but it moves towards a climax that rings hollow. Less because it’s section one of two parts, more because the rules of this universe, as well as our own governing rules via the executive bean counters, have already taken away a true sense of closure. This is the ultimate “tune in next time folks”.

Joss Whedon has his detractors and understandably so, yet his previous excursions into The Avengers universe, while imperfect, always had a particular sense of purpose. A reasoning of why The Avengers avenged. The best Marvel films have a reasoning and understand of stakes which set them apart from some of the other entries. Whedon’s simple placement of a young waitress placed in danger and saved by Captain America (Chris Evans) in the first Avengers film may only be two scenes but gives a simple grounding of what’s at stake that is simply missing in Infinity Wars. It hasn’t got time. There’s all the characters to get through. Most of them Superheroes. Jokes have been made at The Defenders expense, but seriously, where could you fit them? But this complicated series of connections feels does feel odd. The world is truly at stake from one of the most interesting villains seen in this universe but I as a few never gained a sense of the world, because unlike some of the more compacted or isolated Marvel features, there’s never a sense that the world really features.

The film’s tonal shift and the downbeat climax is meant to portray a sense of maturity and feels like a clear shot at critics who have commented on how there often a feeling of comeuppance isn’t felt with some of these characters. However, this is where not obsessing over Marvel product would come in handy, we’ve been here before when it comes to “losing” characters within this universe and it’s hard to feel any emotion to the events, with the knowledge of contractual obligations and Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson appearing as fresh as a daisy on a certain tv show. Add to this the need to wade through 18 films to get why these characters “just turn up”, what’s witnessed feels disjointed. Other writers have labeled the film's climax as cheap, and it’s easy to see why.

Of course to say this is to be traitorous. How dare anyone say anything at all negative about a film that looks set of being one of the biggest money spinners of all time. It must be loved and only loved. There are parts that I really enjoy. See the guardians of the galaxy here was far more enjoyable than their second adventure. I cannot and will not fault the performances of the cast, in particular, an unbelievably solid Josh Brolin (I can’t wait for the meta references in Deadpool 2).  The Russo’s and their unit teams frame and execute the action set pieces with far more skill and grace than Ryan Cooglar’s efforts in Black Panther, while Thanos will stand alongside Killmonger, Loki, and Killgrave as the best villains of the Marvel rouge’s gallery. There is a lot to like here. Possibly even love. I just wish it hadn’t felt so empty. I’m relatively ok with having to plow through 30 hours of films to get to a certain point. It’s just sad that said point only feels like it’s gearing you up to watch another 30.  

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Afrofilmviewer is changing!

Hello there!

If you were a regular visitor to this lil spot and wonder where I've been...

Don't worry! I'm not quitting yet. 

I'm looking to change my focus on film a tad. There'll be less reviewing of what's out at the cinema and more articles, notifications of the podcast work I do and....some reviews (ahem).

Once I get some ideas down, this site will once again be up and about for your viewing pleasure!

See you soon.


Sunday, 17 September 2017

Review: mother!

Year: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Synopsis is here:

So that was mother! A tumbling freefall about the creative process? An overloaded allegory about absolutely everything? Whatever you may think the film is about, the main point I seemed to take from the film is that Aronofsky is Angry with a capital A, to substitute the missing capital in the film’s title card. At the time of writing, my twitter feed has been filled with snarky cinephiles bemoaning the film’s outrageousness as well as the punishing way it tortures its lead (who the director is now dating). It’s a film where its detractors must scream from the highest mountain on how much they disliked it.

Another word beginning with A that I would describe mother! With be absurd. It’s a film which wanted to make a point about humanity’s destruction of the planet, as well as flirt with the same sort of biblical subtexts that Aronofsky has been playing with since his lo-fi indie breakthrough Pi (1998). It wants to mention commentary on celebrity culture and wishes to it do so with haunted house tropes and lingering references to Roman Polanski. The film lays its cards on the table with little disregard on whether the audience wishes to go with it or not. Its execution is set at a pitch which is so high that only dogs could hear. It’s not surprising that it’s set audiences apart. There are those who clearly have the ear for it and those wondering why the other half have tilted their heads.

Did I like it? Sure. I cackled like a schoolgirl through a lot of mother! Mostly because its high camp melodrama tickled me in the right way. I couldn’t take such an audacious film seriously and I suspect that the film and its makers know this, despite its clear Anger at the world. The only way Aronofsky could lash out at everything that pisses him off (the environment, celebrity hounding, the meaning and understanding of creation/destruction). It’s reminiscent of Polanski’s apartment trilogy and holds a similar love for finding humour in its bleakness. Its main conceit had me considering the haywire temperament of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) as well as Chuck Palahniuk’s fever dream of a novel Diary (2003).  It also seems to nod at the transgressional nightmares of Lars Von Trier and tries to aim for that same troublesome headspace. I must admit I’m more with Aronofsky’s style of “lulz” than Von Trier’s. I also feel that all the aforementioned examples are tighter with their focus.

My main issue with the movie is that despite its clear intention to be an ambitious piece of audacity, is that it has the same problems as Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales (2006). It wants to be all these things to its audience, but in doing so, the film becomes much of a muchness. The cast is routinely up for the absurdity even though it’s not top tier performances from any of them.  The tight claustrophobic framing, overloading of close-ups and bucking of typical structure gives the film a vision far removed from so many movies recently released. However, despite the “fun” you can have reveled in its nihilism (it’s really made for a particular sense of humour) once the film enters its extraordinary final 30 minutes, it all feels like 10 different people shouting at once, which is strange considering the film does what it can to isolate everything through the viewpoint of Jenifer Lawrence’s character.

That said, mother! is kind of the perfect type of movie for where we are as filmgoers. It’s ability to polarise audiences is heartily welcomed in the film world that seems hellbent on clogging social media streams on which bland filmmaker has been fired from whichever totally safe megafranchise. While the films detractor’s current snark levels feel somewhat insufferable, rather this than a movie that gave us no experience. To those who favour the film, it’s interesting to see what exactly they see within the hysteria. I for one enjoyed seeing a director try and reach for the sky. It’s very telling to see how many people were quick claim folly on this Icarus attempt. Each to their own. However, one hopes the conversations on mother! last for a long time. I may then be interested in rewatching it and joining in.  

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Review: Life

Year: 2017
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Screenplay:Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick 
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds. 

Synopsis is here:

Daniel Espinosa’s mainstream cinematic entries could perhaps be a good definition of what the youths call “basic”. They are films which have just enough to elevate them above mere “wallpaper” movies; films which are on in the background merely to provide environmental decoration (i.e: it’s on because it’s on). However, they do very little to become films that do anything distinctive. Espinosa’s Northern American features are good at reminding you of more insightful films with bigger impacts, but as a film of themselves, provide little more than a non-committal shrug. In watching Life, we realise that little of this has changed, but it’s the best of a middling bunch.

Life is little more than a well-financed borrowing of Alien, with a sprinkling of other recent, more effective Sci-Fi fare (Sunshine, Gravity). It pilfers and re-arranges enough to become a relatively compact and enjoyable ride, yet like many imitators, the film itself doesn’t include the ingredients that made previous films so memorable. The angst which fills Sunshine (2007) is non-existent here. The deep emotional current that runs through Gravity (2013) can’t be found in any of Life’s corners. Don’t expect the stillness and social dynamics that punctuate Alien, will not be seen. The fat is more than trimmed off the meat here. Don’t expect any extra weight. The problem is that it’s the fat, which cooks the meat and gives it flavour. Ask any cook worth their salt. What we get here is something well done.

Espinosa is all too happy to show off that all the tips and tricks we saw in other sci-fi movies are all still very fun to watch. Ogle at Seamus McGarvey’s fluid cinematography. Marvel at the fact that, for the most part, no one steps their feet on solid ground. You may have seen this elsewhere, but it’s still impressive to watch. It will no doubt be a nice screensaver for a fancy widescreen somewhere. All the while, the film is compressed into a tight package. It zips along to its most effective moments and never dilly dallies. Possibly because it knows it hasn’t got too much junk in the trunk, but hey, at least the film’s tensest moment plays out just like it did in the trailer seen in front of so many other films. 
Believe me when I say, if you’ve seen said trailer, you’ve seen the best moment of the film.

Therefore the other films I mentioned give us a little more to play with. The examples I’ve mentioned give exchanges that provide interest outside the set pieces. Such exchanges bolster the movie and provide motivations and heft to the proceedings that Life is only vaguely interested in. One character hints at a damaged life back on earth that they’d rather not go back to, but this is a transparent moment to provide a small jolt later in the screenplay. It never feels like a true revelation of character. Life is so fleeting with such aspects, it makes things tough to fully surrender to it when the proverbial poo hits the fan. 

It’s easy to be cynical about a feature that isn’t hurting anyone. While it’s a shame that Life has no jagged edges, save for a twilight zone sting at its climax, that fact that it’s a smooth ride, is actually quite nice. It rises above the likes of Espinosa’s Child 44 simply by holding a coherence which that film did not. It holds a decent amount of suspense when it’s on point and has a solid cast holding it together. It’s still a step above a wallpaper movie and despite appearing a little worn, the corners are not peeling enough for the whole thing to be torn down. 

Review: Alien Covenant

Year: 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: John Logan, Dante Harper
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir.

Synopsis is here:

I didn’t hate Prometheus. I felt it’s over reaching ambition helped paper over its niggly narrative issues. It’s fun yet overdone marketing campaign only highlighted to me the importance of good film writing. If people bought into decent critical analysis as opposed to glittery, nostalgic PR campaigns, I feel there might have been a more muted response to the film as opposed to outlandish shrieking over one Damon Lindernoff.

That said, the frustrations which Prometheus brought, clearly affected the choices made in Ridley Scott’s follow prequel Alien: Covenant, an engaging piece which helps solidify some of the more slippery elements of its predecessor and effectively attempts to go back towards what made Scott’s 1979 film so gripping.

It’s hard to bottle lighting, particularly when the first time you did it was quite some time ago and because of the effects of time, it’s clear that Covenant now must really adhere to its financial paymasters. When looking back at the original Alien a couple of weeks back, I marvelled at the pace of the feature. It has the running time of many conventional features, and yet the leisurely way the film sets itself up and pulls a viewer into its nightmare is still something to admire. You forget just how long you spend living with these characters as they bicker and posture before the horror starts.
Alien: Covenant doesn’t have that sort of leeway. The cinema of the 00’s is a cinema of instant gratification. Just look at the knee jerk reactions of modern film writing. Therefore, after a brief prologue to help explain the open-ended motivations of Prometheus, motivations shouldn’t have been that questionable if you consider what we know about certain characters, we are launched into the middle of deep space and straight into a colonial spaceship plunged neutrino blast. Said blast helps push the narrative on quickly but does so at a sacrifice of the characters on the field.

The mere occurrence of Alien: Covenant starting with such bombast, is in heavy contrast to previous entries to the series, and only help highlight to this writer one of the main conflicting issues with Scott’s return and the (new) audience expectation. To comfort the nostalgic affections of the first two entries of the series, but also to try and deliver a fresh new reason to once again dip into the well. The way Covenant starts, it’s a clear need to feed into how many blockbusters work now (no action through character, merely action), but it also hinders the film’s pacing. The film starts big, it ends big and leaves an entertaining but lacking middle. The idea that we’ll see the type of tightly packed, gradually building feature

As with Prometheus, there’s a lot to enjoy if not a slave having to operate in a certain way. The grandiose pomposity of Michael Fassbender’s android; David is welcome here, not least as it amusingly plays in contrast alongside Fassbender also playing a far more grounded humanoid, who's clearly at odds with David’s godly illusions. It is easy to see frustrations with Covenant’s gesticulating about creation and purpose, yet Covenant’s pontifications, while displacing the supposed main threat and antagonist, does its best to try and give the film a certain amount of weight. There is something to be said about these space-age settlers, the material ties they hold and the threat from within looking to destroy them. Even if Scott’s execution of the material is distinctly baggy, it’s clear that he wishes to give what we’re watching a certain amount of heft and a new angle.

Does it all work? Much of it does. While Scott doesn’t truly build the world as efficiently as seen in previous entries, he does allow the treacherous vistas to have a chilly disquieting vibe. The cast is imbalanced in the case of expectations (Katherine Waterston is badly left out to dry), but are more than enjoyable enough in terms of actual performance. This is combined with Scott’s ability to still bring about an effective set piece, with the films central sequence which involves cross cutting between two infection attacks and ending with a remarkable explosion managing to give off a large amount of heart pumping exhilaration. There are also smaller chills, with Scott brings about the same amount of unease with a decapitated head as he does with another infamous face hugger sequence.

None of what is seen is “better” than the original film or its action sequel, but at this point, to look for lightning to once again be bottled is folly. Alien: Covenant succeeds for this writer for simply being a baggy, yet enjoyable thriller. One does it’s best to bring its series full circle. Like Prometheus, it will, of course, throw up more questions than it perhaps needs too, however, name me five franchises which have gone on for this long without running into continuity problems. The thing is this writer came to Covenant for the pseudo-babble and stayed for the sharp shocks. I didn’t need to ask any questions when I saw David’s face for the last time.