Thursday, 31 May 2012

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Year: 2012
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson
Starring: Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel

Synopsis is here

I've allowed the dust to settle, and gather my thoughts. I spent a good time contemplating; and yet still, Moonrise Kingdom didn't bring around about the desired effect. I'm not sure why and I doubt what I write will truly sum up my misgivings for the film. But there's something about Wes Anderson's new film that just feels off.

It's not the angst. In fact I enjoy the angst. The quirky longings and frustrations of Anderson's often pompous characters are what draws me to his films. Be it Max's deluded affections for his teacher Miss Cross, or the aquatic antics of Steve Zissou, I've enjoyed the way the characters wear their flaws around them. Yes, the music choices are hipster smart, and the cinematography is set in that pronounced yet gorgeous way, but throughout what I've loved is when I pick apart the exterior of these films, the inside was always affecting and relatable. You grow to love and admire Royal Tenenbaum for all his disgraceful behaviour. He isn't perfect, but he's honest abut it. Most of Wes' characters are.

There is honesty in Moonrise Kingdom, and it stems from it's two carefully picked young leads. Both give such sincere turns, it's hard not to like them. They are the heart of the film, which seems mostly about control. These two have that devil may care attitude that blesses everyone when they meet their first love (or watch John Hughes movies too many times). Such behaviour flies in the face of the adults, who have merely dismissed the children as troubled and try to manage them with coldness as they bother about their own lives. As the two kids run away, the adults scrabble, squabble and fall apart amongst themselves. The roles reverse, the adults slowly discover they may not be able to control everything and these little uns may be able to teach them something about themselves.

For me, the children's world is the most involving. The performances are funny, in that articulated, mannered Anderson way. They carry the movie as far as the can. The problem I had was when I enter the realm of the adults. Their side of the story was, much like their reactions to the missing children: muddled and rushed. When the film moved on to the grown up point of view, I got the feeling of scenes missing. Their side of the narrative felt incomplete and lacking the emotive hit, I'd expect. Characters reached conclusions a tad too easy. It felt as if they was more to be said. An argument to this could be that as the film is mostly told from the point of view of the children, we should expect something like this. However, considering my feelings of the Darjeeling Limited (beautiful but shallow), one feels that Anderson may have mined all he can from certain areas. Quite simply the grown up have the quirks but none of the candidness.

This aside, all the other Anderson tics are apparent. The film is a photographer's dream, with cinematography that will have wannbe-cool blogger hacks like myself reaching for their instagram apps on their phone. For the most part, that dry wit still lands, and while a lot of the more famous cast appear in what  could be considered as cameos for a friend, none of the turns are what you could consider slacking, although a few of them appear to be a bit lost in the fog.

Moonrise will not detract hardcore fans, but then that's why they are hardcore fans. As long as the basic pieces are in place, you can expect many of them to be happy enough. For myself however, who felt Anderson has hit certain peaks with past works, I found myself, much like one of his characters, to be quite wanting. It's a breezy 90 minutes, but compare to some of the stronger films in Anderson's overture, this appears to be lacking.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Review: The Raid

Year: 2011
Director: Gareth Evans
Screenplay: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy

Synopsis is here:

You can write the premise on a napkin. A SWAT infiltrate a dug lords apartment building only for the tables to be turned on them. It was never about them getting in, it was always about them getting out. The conceit is simplicity itself and one of the reason I feel an action film like The Raid will gain many fans on DVD Theatrically, the U.K numbers haven't appeared on Box Office Mojo, however, the fact that once again I was in a screen by myself speaks volumes (mainly that I work odd shift hours).

The Raid is exactly what I expect from a movie of it's ilk. The kind of film that get's Roger Eberts back up. It's violence incarnate and completely unapologetic with it. Gareth Evans' film is a ballet of broken bones with a tremendous amount of twisted limbs and large bouts of bloodshed. 

It's also suffers from below average characterisation and a humdrum story. I'm sincerely disappointed that the films dialogue and plot are not up to the level of the carnage. Such thoughts will piss off the hardcore fans of such a genre, however brutality aside, I have to say I found myself lamenting that The Raid didn't push the bar further. Haywire's lead actress wasn't the strongest, but such the female dynamic made it stand out (see also Hanna). The dialogue is one note while most of the films twists are pretty transparent. Don't expect anyone of the actors to be the next Lawrence Olivier. 

And yet, this does nothing to distract from the films ability to startle with it's action. The film showcases the traditional Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat. It is a fight style that I've never experienced before, and one that I enjoyed indulging in. Evans use of geography throughout the film is sublime. The labrinth-like corriders are filled with doors that are quick to burst open with assailants, while the fights themselves are quite remarkable  given the limited space available within the rooms. The Raid is quick to remind you that the environment is a character as well.

Is is however, unfortunate that compared to the likes of older (early John Woo) or more modern (A Bittersweet Life) far eastern classics we are not given a character whose as interesting to follow during the "talkie" moments. It's true that we go to the raid for the chop socky action. However, when compared to the likes of Chow Yun Fat or Bruce Lee, the film falters as the lead actor Iko Uwais just doesn't have the presence. While the only way other characters get to bounce off him is by throwing their fists at him. The dances of death throughout are exhilarating, the charisma that flowed through the films it's influenced by however is missing.

The Raid is a six-pack film, which features moves that allows you to marvel at some brilliantly executed set pieces while you swill some watered wheat and hops around your chops. Films like this always make you double take what you just saw and remind me just how regulated the American film industry is in terms of health, safety and insurance. I'll be interested to see just how Hollywood manage some of the stunts on show, in their soon to be filmed remake. I'd be even more surprised if that film manages to bolster the thinly spread plot and characters at play.

Review: Man on a Ledge

Year: 2012
Director: Asger Leth
Screenplay: Pablo Fenjves
Starring: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Edward Burns, Ed Harris.

Synopsis is here

I'm getting more and more frustrated at the fact that Anthony Mackie cannot get a decent leading gig while Sam Worthington is centre stage on a whole range of sub-standard thrillers and blockbusters. I blame James Cameron.

I apologise for being a little harsh on Mr Worthington, as in all honestly he appears to be a genuine guy. He's probably a real gentlemen. Unfortunately, despite the spunk he's has brought to roles, he hasn't built upon his coming out party in Avatar. But then again, things may change, if he was given a screenplay that's worthwhile.

While trying to keep a grip on his Australian accent (he is meant to be from New York here), he also has to struggle on with a screenplay which, is only too quick to trot out tried and tested and tried tropes at a drop of a dime. Look! There's the cop with the troubled past! Hey, there's an unscrupulous reporter whose only too quick to back stab or bet on a good story! I'm not sure about that character! He seems way too trusting...lets hope the script surprises! doesn't.

I'm sure I've bemoaned all this before on this site. It's no way a problem to use such common devices. However, if a film is lazy in it's execution of such things, then it will not generate any excitement. Man on a Ledge slapped me round the chops with dull, generic plot, sprinkles warmed over dialogue over nearly every scene and did nothing to make me interested in it's main conceit. Even the themes that are underlined within the plot are haphazardly shoehorned in. We have moments, which touch upon media hysteria and the 2008 economic crash, however, the film wishes to plod on with it's charmless heist and waste decent character actors (Banks, Mackie, Bell, the dude that was awesome in The Mist). It's an Oceans movie without the smugness, but also without the wit, style or sense of fun.

The main problem however, is I was never on that ledge with Nick. The film doesn't try hard enough to put you in the world. Yes, there's a man on the ledge, and yes there's an area of wish-fulfilment (look at the little man sticking it to the white collar wall street) that could be indulged, but the film never reaches that level of escapism. Here Worthington isn't convincing enough, and the likes of Ed Burns and Ed Harris just don't seem to care enough. The script drops clunky dialogue on a regular basis. It's great to see Genesis Rodriguez strip down to a matching pink bra and panty combo when but her performance sticks out like a sore thumb, you realise how pointless that moment really is.

If there's one thing nice to say abut Man on the Ledge, it will be that at least it looks great on blu-ray. A line like that allows me to make a dumb joke about polishing a turd, but much like the film, such a joke would provide me with little satisfaction.