Thursday, 5 November 2015

Review: Spectre

Year: 2015
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Synopsis is here:

The returning adventures of Bond are a mixed affair. Hoyte van Hoytema brings across some gorgeous warm visuals. The film’s opening sequence is one of pure spectacle and delivers that Bond style thrills that one would hope for (as does a particular explosion later on). These things and a few other things in Spectre helped distract me from the usual concerns I hold with other Bond films of the past which often involve our favourite drunken misogynist having to navigate tiringly convoluted plots.

Nods to previous alliterations and versions of Bond were understandable in previous films. Die another Day, for instance, was not only celebrating the 40 year anniversary of Bond on film, but was also the 20th official film in the franchise. Coming out two years after the turn of the millennium, with such a self-aware actor as Bond made sense at the time. All in spite the film’s weak execution.
Spectre’s wish to remind viewers of the Connery’s white Tux from Goldfinger (1964), over-elaborate villains’ lairs and Charles Bronson-esque henchmen are cute enough. Yet such elements now seem flimsy. Particularly as Daniel Craig’s stint as Bond has strived hard to incorporate a more modern view of the character, after the franchise found itself looking outmoded in comparison to the likes of Bourne.

The likes of Casino Royale and Goldeneye, melded the modern with tradition, and did so comfortably. However Mendes’ second undertaking of the Bond series, loses much of that dour retrospection that gives Skyfall (amongst much of Craig’s Bond entries) such an intriguing appeal. The film’s secondary plot, involving national surveillance, is actually quite appealing in its relevance. Unfortunately Spectre must make sure that Bond seduces a lady to advance the so called real story. No matter how little chemistry Craig has with Monica Bellucci. Does it matter that the sequences comes off as wildly forced? Or a waste of such a quality actress? Nope, Bond must get his end away at least twice. No matter how laboured it may feel.

Spectre (and perhaps much of the newer Bond’s) still struggles with some of the retrograde trappings of the character. Sometimes when the stars align, it doesn’t matter. Other times such as here, everything feels off. Craig’s performance sounds resigned and tired. We’re left to wonder if that’s the character or the actor coming through. After Craig’s recent comments, it’s hard not to think it’s the latter.

There’s still fun to be had with Spectre. Giving Q (Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Harris) more to do is a nice touch. Despite a well spoilt revelation (due to hunches, marketing hype and weak scripting), Spectre holds an excruciatingly painful torture sequence which works incredibly well in the grand scheme of things. Andrew Scott is a fine addition to the film and while, despite looking a little tired with it all, Craig is still an interesting figure as Bond.

Annoyingly, Spectre’s third act tries quite hard to dismantle the more alluring directions that Bond had been heading in. It's rushed A to B plotting hurriedly accumulates to an inelegant climax, which only frustrates, as it balances on a decision that rings quite false of the character. The toning down of Bond in his more unfavourable traits, may not appeal to everyone, but are understandable. The awkward compromise which goes against one of the key elements of Bond's complex dynamics, is uncomfortable. Even for a causal Bond fan.

Spectre will certainly have its fans, and is far from the worst Bond film ever made. Be that as it may, as the credits roll, it was hard not to think of one of my favourite Radiohead songs. No Surprises.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Review: Crimson Peak

Year: 2015
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston

Synopsis is here

Crimson Peak, Crimson Peak, where the women are strong and the men are weak. Guillermo Del Toro’s English language ode to his Spanish language gothic drama, is an opulent, female driven beast that leans more towards Jane Austin than Ju-on.  

Wonderfully carried by a spirited Mia Wasikowska performance, this gullet slicing melodrama is something that will likely frustrate those who fell for its dubious horror-only marketing guff. The approach from the studios has appeared to be so incorrect, that the director himself had to reinforce his intentions beforehand.

Such is the linear view of movies these days, I wouldn’t be surprised that people went into Crimson Peak expecting The Conjuring. I don’t believe many expected heavy references to the literature such as the likes of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (famously adapted by Hitchcock in 1940 and gloriously highlighted here by a deranged Jessica Chastian performance). Nor do I feel that the so called “average audience” was interested in the lighter references to the likes of Nosferatu (1922) or even the meta winks to English hammer horror (Our lead protagonists surname? Cushing). Touches like this would probably be deemed uninteresting to a crowd looking for Paranormal Activity jumps.

The feverish love for the gothic melodrama, as well as the exquisite visual design, is why this blogger adored much of Crimson Peak. It’s a film which delights itself in the mood, it creates over rigid obedience over narrative. The film gracefully defies logic. The murderous, over-elaborate plot dodges any typical rationale. Meanwhile pure white snow falls delicately over the blood red clay which Allerdale Hall resides on. A grand, decaying, English mansion seemingly miles from anywhere. 

Nowhere in England looks like this. It all feels like something out of a monstrous fairy tale.
This is what Del Toro wants. It is not a film about particulars, unless it involves references to literature. The visuals help pronounce the madness. The cast is dialled to eleven, while the setting provides the psychoanalysis with Allerdale's rotten walls and sickly green lighting. It’s a film that once again highlights Del Toro’s main interest. The monstrous designs that lie within humans and how it corrupts the environment around them.

There’s ghosts and things that go bump in the night within Crimson Peak. However Del Toro’s feature is far more infatuated in those small creepy inklings that tingle the spine, over cheaper shock tactics. It’s a ghost story that is told in the way that only Guillermo can tell them. In bold, broad and intense emotions.

Monday, 26 October 2015

The Falling

Year: 2015
Director: Carol Morley
Screenplay: Carol Morley
Starring: Maxine Peake, Maisie Williams, Florence Pugh

Synopsis is here:

Shades of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) linger within Carol Morley’s wispy mystery The Falling. Nevertheless, this is a compelling piece which finds its own way. It does so with a similar dreamy abstruseness as Peter Weir’s seminal feature, all the while holding a comparable sense of rebellion that made Lindsay Anderson’s If(1968). Although it is not as forcible.

The Falling’s allure stems from its main conceit. In which an epidemic of falling fits occurs throughout a rural Catholic school. Is it a group exploration into grief? A sudden, unified event of mass hysteria? Whatever it may be, the source seems to stem from the troubled Lydia (Maisie Williams), whose admiration and envy of her former best friend; Abbie (Florence Pugh) causes an inner turmoil that becomes difficult to repress.

The Falling is an often gorgeous accumulation of anxiety and sensuality. It doesn’t pull the emotional chords as well as Morley’s heart-breaking 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life. However, Morley’s eye for evocative visuals and dreamy transitions, along with her ability to coax much from the seemingly minor details of trembling hands and teasing looks, creates a palpable and lingering tension out of a strange and beguiling mystery.

Review: Sicario

Year: 2015
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro

Synopsis is here:

Higgins:No. Absolutely not. We have games. That's all. We play games. What if? How many men? What would it take? Is there a cheaper way to destabilize a regime? That's what we're paid to do.”
-          Three Days of Condor (1975)

Ice Cube: “You get AK’s from Russia and Cocaine from Columbia.”
Eazy E: “And ain’t none of us got a passport! So you might wanna check the source…”
-          Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Sicario plays a behind the scenes of the source Eazy E mentions, by the rules similar to what Higgins implies. Beginning with a tense and explosive siege, the grim revelation that’s found becomes an ominous analogy. Although less Skeleton’s in the closest, more corpses in the plaster wall.

Underground Rapper Immortal Technique could have conceived an album based on the narrative curveballs that Denis Villeneuve’s crime drama spins towards its viewer. It’s a film which not only firmly cements Villeneuve’s recurring theme of personal, insular prisons, but once again highlights that such prisons tickle down from the larger containment. In Villeneuve’s twisted doppelganger humdinger; Enemy (2013), this involved the sticky webbed influence of Spiders. Here in Sicario, we’re asked to pry apart the tenacious strands of the drug trade, which have been weaved between North and South America. 

This tightly wound production falls into a similar camp as A Most Violent Year (2014). The moral structures that our lead character; Kate (A passive, but seething Emily Blunt) begin to deteriorate and crumble to show how much of a fallacy the lines of the law really are.  No one is to be trusted and the long arm of the law is cracked and fractured in several places. We keenly observe this in the opening shots, were swat teams operate a high risk manoeuvres while neighbours take dogs on their afternoon walks. In the lead up to one of Sicario’s more tense sequences, mutilated bodies hang freely under intersection freeways, while locals nonchalantly play squash in the next street. Good? Bad? In the world of Sicario, it just is.

Much is owed to Roger Deakins cinematography. His control of light and shadow is effortless, as is his ability to clarify the imagery to augment the message. Sicario holds wide shots which isolate Blunt’s Kate both outside and inside government structures which she suddenly feels alien to. The Star Spangled Banner gloatingly hovers over or behind her while she argues her case. So much for what she considers as the American way. By the time we get to the third act, which involves locating border tunnels, we’re viewing images in inferred camera Inverting colour into blurred monochrome shades of gray. We are literally in the dark with little awareness of who the villains are, even though the team have gone in as friends.

It’s easy to argue that Sicario comes at a time where the competition doesn’t feel as stiff as previous eras. It’s not a typical period piece or biopic that fares so well during the Oscars. But that doesn’t matter in the slightest. Sicario not only throbs and pulses like it’s near elemental soundtrack. Its brutally precise execution of its themes, sit in the pit of the stomach like a block of ice. Denis Villeneuve confronts the subject with the same dynamic fortitude that makes Sicario stand tall with similar features of its ilk. For this blogger, this is one of the year’s best. 

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Review: Results

Year: 2015
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Screenplay: Andrew Bujalski
Starring: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan

Synopsis is here:

The romcom hasn’t died. It’s just gone indie. It’s also reworked itself somewhat. Results has popped up the on streaming feed and illustrates just why the likes of Netflix have become so valuable for film fans. At its best, Results sometimes brings the type of chuckles that wouldn’t be too out of place of a more typical romantic comedy. Although the film rolls at such a peculiar pace and rhythm that it could never be sold as a Nora Ephron.

Streaming is the best place for a film like this. Its story drapes baggily over the films jagged characters. There’s no Hanks/Ryan relationships here. There is, however, a delightfully screwed up love triangle involving an all too trusting Guy Pierce, a bitterly acerbic Colby Smulders and an unkempt and schlubby Kevin Corrigan.

There’s good chemistry here, along with some nicely awkward gags. All played out in Andrew Bujalski’s strangely untroubled style. His laid back direction hasn’t changed much since his debut feature; Funny Ha, Ha (2002). Here with a larger budget, however, he shows his comfort with his craft. He’s perhaps a tad too at ease with everything. Results’ languid style can make you wonder why a film like this is as long as it is.

Not to complain too much though. Results, like Bujalski’s Computer Chess is fascinated by broken communication and the importance of repair. Before it was personal computers, this time its the physical body. Yet in the foreground, it’s always relationships that slip in between the hobbies that keep Bujalski’s characters up at night.